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May 10, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Steve Case visits Chattanooga five years to the day after the “Rise of the Rest Road Tour” stop

He's positive about the city and the Volunteer State going forward, but notes that it will be dependent on community leaders and entrepreneurs to ensure that efforts succeed.

More than 350 people pre-registered for the “CO.MOBILITY Summit” in Chattanooga, which wraps up its three-day run later Thursday. It was hosted by The Company Lab and sponsored by a number of organizations.

With the bulk of the event occurring on Wednesday, one of the general sessions featured Steve Case, the author and investor best known for championing the “Rise of the Rest” concept for communities not on one of the coasts.

Ironically, it was five years ago Wednesday when Case (left in picture), Co-Founder of AOL, brought the “Rise of the Rest Road Tour” to the gig city and awarded Craig Fuller (right in picture) and FreightWaves $100,000 as the winner of the pitch competition.

At the time, the start-up had 35 employees. Today, it has 210 associates in a company that was described Wednesday as the “Bloomberg of logistics” firms, and Fuller said that “Case galvanized the community” by identifying the opportunities that the massively large freight sector really is.

Today, Chattanooga is the epicenter of what is described as the “Freight Alley,” and Case is just as upbeat about the community as he was when he visited in May 2018.

“I’m indifferent to which 100 cities will rise, but you should not be,” Case told attendees. “I think Chattanooga will rise. How much? I don’t know; you are in control of it. I would take this moment seriously.”

His positivity also extended to the Volunteer State as a whole.

In an interview after his presentation, Case told us that, from his perspective, “momentum around Tennessee is pretty strong. Chattanooga has enough scale to be important but is not too large.” He suggested that much of Nashville’s growth has been propelled by successfully recruiting big companies, not necessarily start-ups.

Case referenced The Third Wave, Alvin Toffler’s famous book that described the first wave as agriculture, the second as industrial, and the third as technology and digital. He has his own three waves.

“The first was getting America online,” Case said, a reference to the important work that AOL did. “Only three percent of people were online when we launched AOL, and they were online an average of only an hour a week.” The second wave was building software and apps, and the third is “the Internet meets the real world.”

To illustrate the last point, he talked about how healthcare needs to be revolutionized, describing the current process as “not very convenient.” Partnerships will be essential to disrupting core industries like healthcare.

“That is going to be an advantage for some communities,” Case said, adding that because of the EPB existing gigabit network and the emerging EPB Quantum NetworkSM powered by Qubitekk, “Chattanooga is poised to be a big beneficiary” of that requirement.

His comments preceded an announcement that applications have opened for the new “CO.LAB Sustainable Mobility Accelerator.” Start-ups have until the end of June to apply, and six will be selected for the first cohort of the program to be run in collaboration with gener8tor, the Wisconsin-based manager of accelerators. (See separate article here.)

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